No Surprise in Big Budget
Terry H. Schwadron
May 28, 2021
Despite some early raised eyebrows, the only surprise that the Joe Biden budget proposal being unveiled today has big numbers in it — “the highest sustained levels of federal spending since World War II” — is that there is any surprise at all. It reflects simple addition.
Biden has proposed his infrastructure and jobs bill that opponents find too big, support of human infrastructure that opponents don’t even want to acknowledge, the bill to offset economic effects of coronavirus that passed over Republican objections, and wants to make some investments in climate, environment and education.
In other words, according to documents obtained by The New York Times, it adds up to some eye-popping numbers that we can be sure will resound as 2022 campaign fodder for Republicans who both want to criticize it and claim credit for landing federal aid for their localities.
It added up under Donald Trump, too, though the spending targets were different — a drop in taxes for corporations and the wealthy and a build-up of military and weapons.
In both cases, it’s all to be paid for on time, with national deficits projected for the next decade.
Bottom line, $6 trillion and climbing to run the federal government for a year, a gamble on huge economic growth that will keep deficits to about $1.3 trillion a year.
Of course, Congress is going to go at the numbers like a hungry dog and a meat bone. However, since Republicans favor spending over raising corporate taxes, even their proposals for infrastructure are going to boost spending.
Who Are We?
Surprising or not, the spending package really ought to promote discussions now and for a campaign about who we think we are as Americans and what we expect of government — as we thought the last elections were about.
“The proposal shows the sweep of Biden’s ambitions to wield government power to help more Americans attain the comforts of a middle-class life and to lift U.S. industry to better compete globally in an economy the administration believes will be dominated by a race to reduce energy emissions and combat climate change,” reported The Times.
For Republican opponents, the telescope usually is reversed to start with how much government should cost and work backwards from there. That’s how come as a party they support national defense, a border wall, and reductions in federal employees, health care access and social services.
And American voters proudly want to say that they are fiscally conservative while generous to those in need — that somehow magically, government services are going to pay for themselves. We want lowered prescription drug costs and more Medicare services, but we also want taxes reduced.
Somehow that formula, when spelled out, just doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Any number of studies show that Republican congressional districts, particularly rural districts, take more in federal money than they contribute, while it is generally Democratic urban districts that pay more into the systems than get benefits.
We have a private marketplace that wants profit and freedom from regulation over consumer loyalty and service. We have a government that finds itself in the business of filling the gaps that private services leave behind. And we have a worsening man-made and natural environment that is wreaking more and more damages and expenses to everything from roads and bridges to housing to food and health care.
Getting What We Pay For
To me, the key to the numbers that “would expand the federal fiscal footprint to levels rarely seen in the postwar era,” was this:
Spending levels reflect what it costs for investments that the Biden administration says are crucial to keeping America competitive includes money for roads, water pipes, broadband internet, electric vehicle charging stations and advanced manufacturing research plus funding for affordable child-care, universal prekindergarten, a national paid leave program and a host of other initiatives still being formulated. Spending on national defense would also grow, though it would decline as a share of the economy.
If you believe in those, here’s what it costs. If you don’t, the question is what services do you want to pay for?
Negotiations with Republicans over the totals just mean eliminating projects or proposals, not fundamentally finding a new way of providing these services. Let’s not kid ourselves here about finding compromises in an ideologically split world. Republicans think they can support roads and bridges but not food stamps and more health care. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., described White House proposals as “socialism camouflaged as infrastructure.”
Ask anyone on your block whether we should be paying for firefighters and fire trucks. The answer will always be yes unless you have a very active set of volunteers ready to drop everything at the sound of the bell.
The answer to more services is never cutting taxes.